Updated: Feb 3
Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho, and the Lord showed him the whole land: Gilead as far as Dan, all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, the Negeb, and the Plain—that is, the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees—as far as Zoar. The Lord said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants’; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.” Then Moses, the servant of the Lord, died there in the land of Moab, at the Lord’s command. He was buried in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-peor, but no one knows his burial place to this day. Moses was one hundred twenty years old when he died; his sight was unimpaired and his vigor had not abated. The Israelites wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days; then the period of mourning for Moses was ended.
Joshua son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, because Moses had laid his hands on him; and the Israelites obeyed him, doing as the Lord had commanded Moses.
Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face. He was unequaled for all the signs and wonders that the Lord sent him to perform in the land of Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his servants and his entire land, and for all the mighty deeds and all the terrifying displays of power that Moses performed in the sight of all Israel.
This is the Old Testament selection from the Episcopal Lectionary for Year A, Proper 25, the twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost. It will next be read aloud in church on Sunday, October 29, 2017. This is important because it tells of the death of Moses and his legacy among the Israelites.
This reading becomes a confirmation of the dream state analysis I presented for the readings from Exodus 31 and Exodus 33. It also speaks about the use of “face,” which has been omitted from English translations of the First Commandment. The proper translation should state: “Thou shall have no other gods before me to face.” Because we are told here, “Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face,” that element (meaning one cannot even wear his or her own face before God, as that acts as another god before God) is key to grasping the depth of this whole reading.
The thirty-fourth chapter of Deuteronomy begins by stating, “Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho, and the Lord showed him the whole land: Gilead as far as Dan.” Simply from the imagery that comes from those segments, creating one statement, one can easily hear or read those words and think Moses went to some high elevation and God opened his eyes to see long distance. Without knowing how high Mount Nebo is (it is 817 meters, or 2,680 feet above sea level), one can think this is similar to going atop Lookout Mountain (see Rock City, elevation 2,389 feet), where one can see U. S. seven states. However, this is not how to read verse one.
To get the big picture, one has to focus on the word “Pisgah.” This is not a proper place, although some may offer conjecture that this is the name of another mountain in Moab, presumably beyond Mount Nebo. The word “pisgah” means “cleft,” in Hebrew. This means Moses did not go to the “top” of a specific ridge on Mount Nebo, but he went into a cleft at the top of Mount Nebo. Any capitalization then written or implied acts to show this was not an ordinary “cleft,” but a most important one.
This is then a reference to Exodus 33:22, where the LORD told Moses, “See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by.” The Hebrew word used there is “bə·niq·raṯ” (root “neqarah”), which means, “a hole or crevice,” implying a “cavern or cleft.”
As I explained (hypothesized) in my interpretation of that Old Testament reading for Proper 24, Moses became one with God when in that cleft, as his body became encased in the “rock” that was God surrounding him. Thus, being in a “cleft” of the LORD implies being in that holy dream state, where prophetic visions make one see through the face of God. It is only after coming out of that state, when the results of the Holy Spirit’s presence can be seen, such that that becomes identified as the “back side of the LORD.” This same meaning should be inferred in Deuteronomy 34:1, upon “Pisgah.”
By realizing that, one can now look at the map below and see the breadth of vision that was allowed Moses, while in a holy dream state atop Mount Nebo. Due east of Mount Nebo is Bethlehem, 35 miles away. The “sea” was twice that distance, 70 miles away. It was 80 miles, north and slightly west, to Bethsaida, at the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, the southern edge of Naphtali. It was roughly 58 miles to the southwest where Zoar was located. The purple circle that I have added to the map then represents a panoramic view with a radius of 80 miles. That distance captures all of the places mentioned in the first three verses of Deuteronomy 34.
It might be possible to see the distant tops of mountains that border the valley of the Jordan River (and Gilead was a mountain range east of the Jordan River, between Manasseh and Gad); but was Moses limited to such a pedestrian view? If “Pisgah” does indeed mean “cleft,” then one can realize how God showed Moses much more than a vista of the Promised Land.
When we then read the LORD telling Moses, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants’; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there,” we are returned to the element of “Seeing,” which began Exodus 33 and was the theme of that reading.
The translation, “I have let you see it with your eyes,” comes from the Hebrew “’et·tə·nen·nāh her·’î·ṯî·ḵā ḇə·‘ê·ne·ḵā,” which (as variations of three words) is more like three statements being made: “I will give” (“nathan: to give, put, set”), “I have caused you to see [it]” (“raah: to see”), and “with your eyes” (“ayin: an eye”). The allowance of God is a gift of the Holy Spirit, which then becomes the cause of a vision (acceptable variation allowed from “raah: to see”). This “sight” was then seen by Moses in his mind’s eye.
When it then shows (by the English translation above) an exception to this “gift” of “sight” by God, as “but you shall not cross over there,” it gives the impression that God was teasing Moses. He was showing him all the bounty of the Promised Land, but then saying, “You can’t go there.” That is the wrong impression.
The Hebrew actually says, “wə·šām·māh lō ṯa·‘ă·ḇōr,” which is better translated as “and there not do cross over.” If anyone remembers the TV show Crossing Over with John Edwards, then one should be familiar with the term “crossing over” as it is relative to death.
A viable use of “abar” (the root of “ṯa·‘ă·ḇōr”) is “pass on” or “pass away.” Since the next verse states, “Then Moses, the servant of the Lord, died there in the land of Moab,” the meaning of “and you shall not pass away there, at the Lord’s command,” says God told Moses, while in a prophetic vision state, “You will die before setting foot on this land I am showing you.”
Because the verse that follows states, “Moses then died,” the assumption is that Moses died as soon as God told him that. However, the end of a verse with a period (mark of “complete stop”) and the beginning of a new verse with a capitalized first word (new thought) does not mean take a deep breath and then immediately continue. To see how considerable time can pass between such transition points, I recommend looking at the Last Supper verses. That evening took at least six hours of time.
Because of this realization, there is the distinct possibility that Moses awoke from that dream state atop Mount Nebo, knowing his future; and he was then able to make a few arrangements about his burial and inform key personnel about the coming change. According to lore, Nostradamus told his assistant (Chavigny) he would be found dead in the morning, and he was. If you recall, Jesus made a few preparatory comments to his disciples, prior to his dying. Therefore, it is reasonable to think God would not suddenly take the life of Moses away from him.
When we are then told, “Moses was one hundred twenty years old when he died; his sight was unimpaired and his vigor had not abated,” this firmly states that Moses and God were still of One-being, until the day Moses “gave up the ghost.” Moses was filled with the strength and longevity that the Holy Spirit brings. He was fully capable of seeing as a prophet of the LORD, and he was fully capable of acting on every command the LORD gave. In this case, the LORD commanded it was time for the physical presence of Moses among the Israelites to leave them.
The death of Moses, in this light, has to be seen in direct comparison to Jesus of Nazareth. Moses lived 120 years, which is a numerological 3 (1+2+0=12 > 1+2=3). The number three is symbolic of the Trinity, as well as “initial completion.” The children of Israel had reached a stage of training, where their most holy teacher had to let them graduate and take forth what they had been taught to the next level. Jesus lived 33 years, which is a numerological 3 elevated to the spiritual status of an 11 (3 x 11=33). This means Jesus was on a higher plane spiritually than an ordinary 6 (3 + 3 = 6).
Additionally, Jesus was transfigured on the high mountain and Moses appeared beside him. Both Moses and Jesus were representatives of the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in one being). Both obeyed the commands of the Father. Both were able to talk with God with “unimpaired vision” of what was before them. Both were doing the work of the LORD, without any weakness of Spirit.
When this reading from Deuteronomy 34 goes on to state, “Joshua son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, because Moses had laid his hands on him,” the same way that Moses touched Joshua spiritually is then comparable to Peter standing (with the other ten Apostles), as Jesus had “laid hands upon him” similarly. Where as Moses touched one (Joshua), a Trinity led to a Trinity. An an elevated Trinity, Jesus touched eleven, leading to eleven Trinities. All who were touched became filled with the “spirit of wisdom.”
By adding, “the Israelites obeyed [Joshua], doing as the Lord had commanded Moses,” this says the disciples of Moses became the disciples of Joshua. Joshua taught and the Israelites learned and believed. This is also how the Jews converted to becoming Christians, with everyone doing as the LORD commanded, via the Holy Spirit. As was Moses, so was Joshua, and as were the Israelites. As was Jesus, so were the Apostles, and as are, and always will be Christians.
It is so easy for Christians today to see Jesus Christ as the Son of God, seated at the right hand of the LORD, and think less of those holy men who came before Jesus. However, to read, “Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face,” one has to see Moses as the equivalent to Jesus, with this truth stated about Moses being tied to Israel, prior to their fall.
Jesus can have the same truth stated about him, as “Never since has there arisen a prophet in the world like Jesus, whom the LORD knew face to face.”
The element stated as “face to face” is in Hebrew “panim el- panim.” The “el” word is read as a prepositional prefix added to the first “panim,” but the noun “el” means “god,” which can be ignored or read as a clue about how to read this three-word statement. As a preposition, “el-” means, “to,” but also “into” and “towards,” with the implication being “against.” As such, the statement says the LORD knew Moses because Moses allowed his “face” to change “into” the “face of God.” His “face” was “towards” God, as subservient, to the point of being pressed “against” the “face” of God, so his own “face” was lost. What the LORD’s Mind needed to be transferred, as the knowledge of Moses, it entered that person so Moses’ “face” shone like the sun. Jesus was known by God in the same way, but less physically obvious. Still, Jesus is said to be the “light,” as he shines the “face” of God so all can see the truth.
I will leave it up to the reader to draw comparisons to the statement that Moses was “unequaled for all the signs and wonders that the Lord sent him to perform.” It should not be hard to do that now.